There seems to be a rule that if retirees move to a communal environment, it must consist only of other retirees. But some are challenging that notion by choosing intergenerational cohousing, living side by side with people of all ages, including singles, childless couples, and families with children.
Residents of cohousing make major decisions collectively, but these are not communes. Group meals and activities are optional, and members maintain separate residences.
“You have a choice between privacy and community,’’ said Charles Durrett, 57, an architect who has designed more than 50 cohousing communities.
Some communities that live by cohousing principles are for retirees only, and that is the best choice for some, Durrett said. Children can be raucous, and sometimes people want to spend their time in peace with like-minded friends and a glass of wine.
But other s prefer the energy and variety of cohousing, he said. The arrangement has value for younger residents, too: Children learn to respect their elders and ‘‘everybody’s seeing all of life,’’ Durrett said. That includes ‘‘what the end game looks like,’’ he said.
Cohousing is a way to avoid the isolation and depression that older people can face when they live alone, Durrett said. Cohousing residents are also more likely to check up on and care for their neighbors, he said.
Meg Palley, 95, lives in a four-bedroom house in Nevada City she shares with two caregivers, who receive reduced rent in return for services like driving and shopping. She said she chose intergenerational cohousing because ‘‘it’s logical to have people of various ages together.’’ She would be lonelier if she were living with other older people, she said, and suspects she’d hear too many people ‘‘complaining about their complaints.’’
At Ecovillage at Ithaca, N.Y., residents range from a few months old to 80-plus. Ecovillage has two communities of about 30 units each, with one more community in development. Legally, the communities are co-ops, and as the name implies, Ecovillage emphasizes the environment by operating two organic farms and using solar energy. Like most cohousing communities, it includes common areas where people can share meals, and it offers many group activities.
The cost of cohousing varies depending on the region, Durrett said. In general, it is similar to what a two-bedroom condo would cost. Many people make a down payment and pay a mortgage on their homes, he said.
There are a few ways to join a cohousing community. One is to participate in the formation of one, in which case people can influence how it is structured.
But financing construction can be hard, said Rebecca Lane, executive director of the Cohousing Association of the United States. “The failure rate is high for forming communities,” she said.
Cohousing is not for everyone. Some people realize ‘‘it’s a lot of work living with a group of people and making decisions together,’’ and they aren’t willing to make that investment, said Bill Hartzell, board president of the cohousing association. Conflict is inevitable — most often it revolves around money, children and pets, he said.
Yet people do not need to be extroverts to thrive in cohousing.
“One of my personalities is quite the hermit, but I also recognize that I can spiral too deeply into not being around people,’’ said Dan Fallon, 67, a former psychologist in Chicago living in a cohousing community in Prescott, Ariz.